Approach Trail Ups and Downs


About a month ago I was getting burnt out at work (working 7 days a week will do that) and I really wanted to hike and camp somewhere. Michael and I decided to take Leo to do the Approach Trail at Amicalola State Park. Zara didn’t get to go because it was way too hot for her. Anna, my ex-roommate (and Zara’s other mom) watched Zara for the 3 days that we were gone. At the last minute, my sister Katie and her dog, Jax (Leo’s BFF) decided to join our hiking expedition.

Gear Prep

We set off for Dawsonville, GA with all of our gear and some extra gear for Katie, who is not an avid hiker. This is a good place to point out that me and Michael had yet to buy any lightweight gear or efficient gear in general for backpacking. We stopped halfway up to get gas and the gas station had a dog park! We were all so excited. The humans were excited to get the jumping bean pups out of the car and the beans were excited to run like the hoodlums they are.

We eventually made it to the Budget Inn in Dawsonville, where we packed our packs for the next day. Mine was an Osprey Aura 65L (which will be exchanged for an Osprey Exos 48L before the thru hike). Michael’s was the Osprey Aether 65L, and Katie had a Patagonia bookbag normally used for her school books. Leo didn’t carry his pack because I wanted him to be happy just experiencing the trail without any extra weight.

Amicalola State Park

The next morning we drove to Amicalola State Park and started our hike at the bottom of the falls after registering at the office. We started at the bottom of the stairs, which Jax was scared to climb and had to be carried up. So basically we were dead at the top of the stairs, but were determined to do the Approach Trail and camp on Springer Mountain.

We were doing good for the first half of the Approach Trail, there was singing and happy conversations. After the halfway mark, too heavy packs and inexperienced trail legs made us miserable. Leo, Jax, and Katie were doing fantastic, but the dogs weren’t carrying packs and Katie’s weighed maybe 15 pounds. Michael and I probably had 50 pounds in our packs, but we didn’t weigh to them, so I can’t be sure. It turns out that me and Michael were obviously carrying way too much for an overweight hike and that I was the slowest hiker of our group. Katie’s cheerfulness and fast pace made me want to throw her off a cliff. I refrained though and everyone survived the trip. For reference, Katie and I know which buttons to push to make the other one steam from anger from being so close in age (one year and five days apart), but no serious harm ever comes to the other sister (most of the time). We also kept leap frogging with a solo guy leisurely hiking. The dogs were really happy to see him, but also barked excessively, so he kept his distance ( and we held them when he passed), but he laughed and said that they just wanted to be in the lead.

Springer Mountain


We got to the top of Springer Mountain finally! We were supposed to camp at Springer and then hike back down to Amicalola State Park the next day, but we were exhausted and sore. There was no way that we were going to make it another 8 miles. To top it all off, there were signs saying that due to bear activity, we were not allowed to camp on Springer. We called forestry, because the people working at the office in Amicalola State Park wouldn’t answer the phone (even though they were supposed to be open for another 2 hours). We ended up grumpily trudging down to the Springer Mountain parking lot where two forestry guys offered to pick us up at.

We got to the parking lot and sat/laid under the Chattahoochee National Forest sign.  Leo and Jax immediately passed out (it was cold now that we weren’t hiking) with a sleeping bag on me and Leo and Jax in Katie’s lap.


The forestry guys pulled up in a blacked out Hummer that looked like it was covered in armor, so basically a military tank pulled up. the driver joked that they didn’t see us when they pulled and thought they were going to have to go in and find us. He said that that happens at least once a week to rescue people. We got in the car, after they tried to put Leo and Jax in a huge kennel, which they didn’t like and ended up riding in our laps. We joked and laughed the whole hour ride back to Amicalola. About 5 minutes into the drive down Springer, we saw a large black bear in the trees along the side of the road. So it turns out that not camping was a good idea. Bears and inexperienced camping dogs wasn’t a good idea either.

Lessons Learned

  1. Buy lighter gear.
  2. Weigh your pack and criticize every piece of gear thoroughly.
  3. Take Leo hiking more.
  4. Be fully prepared for any possibility.
  5.  Remember the reasons why you want to hike.
  6. Have fun doing what you like doing (AKA hiking is supposed to be fun, so enjoy it).
  7. Prepare and research until you think you’re too prepared.
  8. Have fun with the surprises; they make the best stories.


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Comments 3

  • Chris Guynn : Oct 4th

    Cieria, There is in fact a pack scale at the visitors center at Amicalola Falls on the porch. Its an old school spring scale but it worked great for me. Even with dog food and heavier gear you can be comfy with 20lbs pack weight for an overnight trip. I started from the falls this year for my thru hike at 33# and it was way to much gear. Looking forward to seeing your gear get lighter. Getting a lower volume pack helped me leave some stuff at home. It’s best to start with just leaving stuff at home before buying superlight weight gear. A lot of people post their gear list on here and get some tips from the hundreds of people that have been in heavy pack purgatory before.

  • Connie : Oct 5th

    Since you mentioned you are taking your dogs on your thru hike let me suggest this. Know that I LOVE dogs. I’ve had them all my life. I don’t have one right now and I feel incomplete…BUT, not all people love dogs. To a non dog loving person meeting a dog on the trail that barks and tries to smell them, ruins their day. Be considerate of these people and have your dogs under control. It will make all hikers happy. I just got back from hiking in Maine and saw this happening way to much. And you do know that Baxter State Park doesn’t allow dogs? Have a wonderful thru hike and I know it will be worth it!!

    • Michael : Oct 8th

      Bear Mountain State Park and Great Smoky Mountain National Park also don’t allow dogs.


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